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Jeannie Light ’63

Jeannie has published a new book, Beautiful on the Mountain, which released on June 1 from Tyndale Momentum. The book is based on her experiences as a lay missioner in Graves Mill, Virginia, but the story starts further back than that. Jeannie was born into a storytelling family. Her grandmother passed down stories she had heard from her own mother and father, frontier missionaries in southern Michigan. Her grandfather told stories, too, and so did her mother and father. With that bloodline, Jeannie’s desire to be a writer seemed natural, and she pursued that goal by earning a bachelor’s in English literature (with an emphasis on creative writing) at K. During her senior year she was a student teacher for a college freshman English class and worked as a freelance journalist. She wrote an award-winning novel based on family stories about fur traders and American Indians in Michigan’s St. Joseph River valley in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Jeannie attended the University of Virginia on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, receiving her M.A. in English literature. She worked as a journalist, taught English at the University of Maine and for the University of Virginia extension program, and ran a farm in Madison County, Virginia. In 1977 she decided to operate a sheep farm on her mountain land in Graves Mill, Virginia, adjoining Shenandoah National Park. To her surprise, the deacons of the inactive Baptist church in the hamlet asked her to help them re-open its doors and revive the congregation. She had never intended to be a preacher or missionary, but when she moved to the mountain community, she found herself living stories very similar to those she had heard as a child. Beautiful on the Mountain is the narrative of her first three years in this beautiful, austere setting. The Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia licensed Jeannie as a lay missioner in 1983. Graves Chapel eventually opened a thrift shop and ministered to those at or below the poverty level, 60 percent of the county’s residents at the time. Though Jeannie remained a laywoman, she was elected president of the county ministerial association, and the chapel offered silent retreats for the local clergy. After fifteen years in the mountains, she resigned and worked with artist and sculptor Walter Slaughter. She self-published two books of meditations, Are You Coming?: Meditations on the Passion and Gethsemane, both illustrated with Walter’s art.

In 1985 Jeannie became a member of Truro Anglican Church (Fairfax, Va.) and since her resignation from Graves Chapel, she has ministered at Truro in various capacities as a layperson, including leading bimonthly services at the Fairfax Nursing Center and teaching a Bible study. She lives in Louisa, Virginia. Jeannie’s work at Graves Chapel was featured in Kalamazoo College Quarterly in the summer of 1991.

Doug Deer ’73

Doug retired on August 31 after a 21-year tenure as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Cooperstown, New York. He majored in religion at K and studied abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France. His career service quarter with the Sioux tribe of South Dakota convinced him to enter the ministry. After graduating from K he attended Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He was ordained in 1976. Doug and his wife, Susan, plan to move to Cortland (N.Y.) to be close to their daughter and granddaughter. They also have a son and two grandchildren living in Seattle. One of Doug’s passions is model trains. He had train gardens set up in the yard of his Cooperstown home, where he would sometimes invite the public to watch train runs. Doug has more than one hundred model trains, and he expects to spend several years of his retirement setting up the train layout at his Cortland home. A retirement activity that he and Susan intend to share is visiting National Parks. And they also expect to babysit their granddaughter a lot.

Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Life, Love, and God

Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Life, Love, and God

by Jane (Hudson) Knuth ’80 and Ellen Knuth

Letting go of her daughter, Ellen, was a 6,000-mile proposition for alumna Jane Knuth. Ellen, a recent college graduate and eager to get a grip on the adventure of life, was on her way to a remote part of Japan to teach English.

It wasn’t so much that Jane was afraid of the long distance. She feared more that her daughter might hit a bump or two in her life path, perhaps even a crisis, and not have a Christian church nearby. Jane’s faith is important to her, and she had worked lifelong to share and cultivate that importance in her daughter. The nearest Christian church was two hours away from Ellen’s new residence. Ellen wasn’t worried. Her concerns centered more on her new job and life in another country than the one in which she had been raised.

Love Will Steer Me True: A Mother and Daughter’s Conversations on Life, Love, and God is a collaborative book by Jane and Ellen. It is Jane’s third book and Ellen’s first. (Thrift Stone Saints: Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time and Thrift Store Graces: Finding God’s Gifts in the Midst of a Mess are collections of stories from Jane’s volunteer work in a Kalamazoo thrift store.) Chapters lean heavily to Ellen’s story, with Jane mostly writing in response to her daughter’s musings.

The two keep in touch often by calling each other over the Internet, using Skype. “I’ll call you in your morning,” becomes their mantra. They trade stories of teaching, because Jane finds herself teaching eighth-graders in Kalamazoo, an unexpected job. Ellen’s work with Japanese children teaches her cultural differences and common universalities among children.

When Ellen writes of religion, she explores the beliefs she finds in Japan. She discovers a statue near the school where she teaches, nearly obscured by trash and weeds. It is a jizo, a Japanese figure of divinity, offering protection in the Buddhist tradition. This one appears to be a protector of children, and during the months Ellen teaches at the school, she tends the jizo, cleaning the statue and filling its offering cup with water (rather than the traditional sake, since alcohol is not allowed on school grounds). While her faith remains important to her, she expresses it effortlessly through a variety of other faiths.

The shared story takes an unexpected turn in 2011, when a tsunami crashes against the shores of Japan, leaving a path of destruction. In the tsunami’s wake follows a nuclear disaster, and while Jane at home prays for her daughter’s protection, Ellen joins a group of volunteers and heads into the fray.

Love Will Steer Me True is less a conversation than a daughter’s story reflected on her mother’s heart. Both reach a higher level of respect for the other in the process. Both gain new facets to their individual journeys of faith. Both learn to let go, and in letting go, strengthen their bonds.

Guardian angels and jizos work side by side, it appears. During parental visits to Japan, mother and daughter meet as equals, and in Jane’s willingness to abide by local culture and faith traditions, the reader becomes witness to the blending of two worlds. Jane gives a string of a thousand folded cranes to the Japanese she meets, their symbol of hope.

After five years of teaching in Japan, Ellen has returned to the United States. She works as a manager for a company in Clinton Township, Michigan, that specializes in study abroad and international internships. Jane lives with her husband, alumnus Dean Knuth ’78, in Portage, Michigan, and continues to volunteer at the thrift store as well as write a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. (Reviewed by Zinta Aistars)

Henry Yaple ’63

Henry recently completed a 30-year labor of love: a bibliography listing the thousands of works printed by a celebrated religious commune formerly located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In the early 20th century the Israelite House of David (founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell) was known for its semi-professional baseball team, whose players sported long locks, flowing beards, and major league talent. The Benton Harbor House of David was later re-organized by Mary Purnell as Mary’s City of David.

Yaple earned his bachelor’s degree in English from K and a Master of Library Sciences degree from Western Michigan University. He began his professional life as a librarian and bibliographer at Michigan State University. He retired as Librarian Emeritus from Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) and did much of his compilation work during retirement.

According to Sue Moore, who wrote a story about Yaple that appeared in South County News, “The idea for researching and compiling a bibliography stemmed from his studies as a librarian. The sect headed by Benjamin and Mary Purnell, who had only an eighth grade education, realized that it could attract converts with written material outlining its beliefs. They didn’t attribute or date most of their works but published thousands of titles. The published works helped to attract large numbers of men and women to become members, some from as far away as Australia.

“According to Mary’s City of David web site, the sect published The Star of Bethlehem and by 1910 it was in its third edition, having circulated around the world to the churches and followers of the former six Israelite messengers. Their “Eden Springs Park” was in its second successful season in 1910 and on its way to become America’s premiere pre-Disney theme park. The House of David schools would provide education and recreational activities for its children, who soon developed into legendary barn storming baseball teams, known to Satchel Paige as “Jesus boys”, and traveling jazz bands that would catch the attention of America in sweeping nationwide vaudeville circuit tours throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1920s, and in spite of the worldwide economic depression, the Israelite House of David and Mary’s City of David would come to dominate southwestern Michigan’s economy, tourism and agricultural industries.”

Yaple’s retirement activities are not confined to academics. He is an avid skier, and has also published two works on that avocation. He and his wife, whom he met skiing, live out west in ski country.

Ruth Moerdyk ’83

Ruth was awarded the Faith Award this year for recognition of her leadership and work in creating safe and affirming spaces through a faith lens. Ruth advocates for the LGBTQ community from the pulpit (she serves as the pastor of Christian Church-Disciples of Christ in Kalamazoo), in everyday life, and as chair of the Faith Alliance. During her time at Kalamazoo College, Moerdyk helped found the first LGB student organization at K and went on to provide leadership for the LGBTQ student organization at Chicago Theological Seminary. She earned her bachelor’s degree in religion and studied abroad in Sierra Leone.

New Zealand Honey and an Episcopal Childhood

Cliff Van Eaton ’72 has written one honey of a book…about honey!

Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey, is the ‘rags-to-riches’ tale of how a piece of scientific serendipity turned an unwanted honey into a ground-breaking medicine. Manuka honey is a product unique to New Zealand and valued for its antibiotic effects. Cliff’s book chronicles the science behind the discovery of those effects.

It was named a finalist in the 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Book Prize. The Royal Society of New Zealand is modeled on the original Royal Society in England, the oldest continuing academy of sciences in the world. An important function of the Society is the sharing of science-based ideas in the overall New Zealand community, and the Book Prize is a way of celebrating the efforts of writers and publishers in that regard. The competition is held every two years, and is open to all books by New Zealand authors that “communicate scientific concepts in an interesting and readable way for a general audience.” Love those science writers with a lay audience in mind.

Cliff is a well-known writer on beekeeping subjects and is co-author of two books on bee diseases. For more than 30 years he worked as a beekeeper adviser in New Zealand, and has also assisted beekeepers in countries as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

 

On his way home for dinner, the narrator of Jim Todd’s (class of 1958) memoir, The Key, stops to watch the demolition of the Episcopal Church building that was his church home growing up. At first the razing of a spiritual “home” troubles him and also prompts a vivid recollection of a single choir season–the fall-to-spring of the narrator’s 12th year. The flashback of those nine months in the life of “Joey”–the narrator’s younger self–and his two close friends, Danny and Kenny (the “three inseparables”), occupy the ensuing 13 chapters of the book. The church-and-choir related hijinks of these three (who move through the narrative like a Tom Sawyer and his gang) include a frog funeral at church that inspires the start of acolyte training, a school-boy crush on a department store holiday season harpist, a water war with Baptist youth choir members that escalates into something more serious, a spitball attack on the choir director, the sabotage of a presentation by the girl (and fellow choir member) Joey likes but doesn’t know he likes, and the changing of Joey’s voice–a sad casualty of maturation that necessitates his “fall from grace” as the choir’s soprano soloist (first row) to the hinterland of alto background (second row).

Jim has written a book about the importance of fun, the inevitability of impermanence and change (Joey’s voice, the nature of friendships, the relocation of a church), and, most importantly, what endures in the face of such impermanence. The book’s final chapter snaps the reverie of the adult narrator into the present. The dump trucks are back filling the church building’s former foundation. And yet the evanescent last images of Joseph’s flashback call to life the profound changes he experienced in church late that choir season of long ago. That memory confirms for him the key of what matters and what never changes. The narrator finds himself less troubled by the scene at which he stopped. Joseph is a church leader at its new home. He starts his car to continue his way home, taking “the key” and the essence of his old church building with him.

Cody Musselman ’11

Cody graduated from Harvard Divinity School in May with a Master of Theological studies degree. At K she majored in religion and studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At Harvard her academic focus was on American religious history with special interests in 20th- and 21st-century religious phenomena. She plans to pursue her doctorate in American religious history at Yale University.

Aaron Maurice Saari ’98

Aaron became the first ordained minister to marry a same-gender couple in Dayton, Ohio. Aaron, who majored in religion at K, is pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, and he also serves as Multifaith Campus Minister at Sinclair Community College. Aaron did his study abroad in Rome, Italy. He is earning his doctorate in Intercultural Studies at United Theological Seminary. He is pictured (left) with his brother Stephen Allison, who passed away in 2002. Stephen, too, was a K alum, a member of the class of 1995.

Aaron Saari ’98

Aaron is the new part-time pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Yellow Springs, Ohio. A bible scholar and theologian, Aaron is the author of The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot, a book about the historical figure and the issue of suicide. He has been a visiting professor at Xavier and an adjunct instructor at Antioch University Midwest, teaching courses in writing, Christianity, and non-western religions.